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Coping with pulled ribs

The last 8 weeks have been the worst since I started suffering from asthma 17 years ago. It started with a chest infection that dragged on and required 3 courses of antibiotics and steroids. Three weeks ago 1 went to a and e as I coughed so badly I felt my rib pop and was worried i had done something bad. Turns out this is the sound you can feel when you pull your ribs. I had just started to heal when last night the same thing happened but as my ribs hadn’t fully healed the pain this time was unbearable. I can’t do anything myself at the moment which I find so hard as I never have been one to rely on anyone especially when it comes to even needing help showering and daily things like that. Has anyone else experienced this pain, any suggestions to help with the pain. I am now scared to cough! I can’t sleep because of the pain and my mental health is at breaking point!


  1. Hi Jessica, and thanks for sharing your experience here with the community.
    I hear you! Rib pain from coughing can be (as you well pointed out), a challenge to deal with.
    I do have two suggestions in this regard.
    The first is, in the future, when coughing, you may want to use the 'splinting' technique, which is something we teach patients following abdominal surgical procedures and thoracic surgical procedures, too. It is easy to put in place and quite effective for the patients I have instructed who follow the guidelines. Quite simply, by using a pillow or small cushion, you can place it over the rib area which is affected and 'hug yourself' firmly in that area. The idea is to provide support in that area with pressure exerted using the pillow. This will keep the area from stretching out/expanding during the cough. This 'splint' can make a world of difference by enabling the patient to cough more effectively and protect them from the severe pain which occurs when the area is not supported. (If it helps you, think of the same 'splinting' technique applied to any surgical incision. What one is doing is holding the incision together (with the splinting maneuver), which prevents it from stretching and pulling on the sutures, which causes the pain. Think of your affected rib area as the incisional area, if that helps you.
    The second suggestion I would make is to use a lidocaine transdermal patch over the affected rib area. This may help alleviate some of the pain in that area and make you more comfortable. Of course, since lidocaine is a medication, this will need a prescription from your physician and he/she will be the one to determine if this treatment (for pain), is indicated in your case.
    What do you think, Jessica?
    Leon (site moderator asthma.net)

    1. Thank you so much for your suggestions Leon, I will definitely try them. The pain is really getting me down and unfortunately I don’t think my family quite understand how much pain I am in and I feel like a bit of a burden right now.


      1. Hi Jessica - glad to have been able to offer you some suggestions. It can be challenging without the level of support from family that can be so vital - it's understandable how you are feeling now. Perhaps you can share some of what has been written here with them if, you think that would help.
        If not, hang in there - you can always rely on us here, in the community, for this level of online support. It's not the same as in-person family and friends but, we are always here.
        Perhaps in time, your family will begin to understand more about this condition and what you are going through.
        If there is anything more we can do to assist you, please let me or any other moderator / team member know.
        Warm regards,
        Leon (site moderator asthma.net)

    2. Jessica, so sorry to hear about all you are going through. It's so hard to sleep when you're in pain! Have you been sleeping in your bed? If so, I wonder if sleeping in a chair or otherwise elevated could be useful. That would depend upon exactly where you are hurting, though, and unlike Leon, I am not a professional. 😀 Please take good care of yourself and try not to rush the healing process -- hoping you will be feeling better each day. Thinking of you! -Melissa, asthma.net team

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